Scholarship assessment: Perceptions of human sciences administrators and faculty in higher education

Scholarship assessment: Perceptions of human sciences administrators and faculty in higher education

Margaret J Weber

Abstract: An assessment of the meaning of scholarship as held by administrators and faculty in the human sciences in higher education suggests that each sample group views scholarship primarily as the generation of new knowledge. The two groups were queried on their perceptions of the Boyer framework of scholarship: discovery, integration, application, and teaching, and the means by which each could be assessed. Results provide guidance in developing a framework to apply to the promotion and tenure process.

Debates about higher education generate discussion about faculty roles and expectations, quality of undergraduate education, service to the public, and creation and relevance of knowledge. Higher education recently has been affected by decreased support from public funds as well as increased public scrutiny. Within the university community there is increasing discussion about promotion and tenure relative to productivity (Tien & Blackburn, 1996). Issues of productivity, academic excellence, definition(s) of scholarship, and academic roles are being challenged and debated by the public and educators alike (Tierney & Rhoads, 1994). One thing seems certain: The public is exerting increasing pressure on these issues in higher education.

Faculty question productivity expectations in relation to the definition of scholarship for their academic role. Over the years, scholarship has been defined and measured in numerous ways, but primarily as a research model with publication expectations (Noser, Manakyan, & Tanner, 1996). Pellino, Blackburn, and Boberg (1984) indicate that genuine ambiguity exists over what constitutes academic “scholarship.” With continuing questions about scholarship, this study was developed to explore four dimensions of scholarship-discovery, integration, application, and teaching (Boyer, 1990)-within the Human Sciences.

Complex and unprecedented social and political changes demand that the professoriate within the structures and systems of the university evaluate the role of faculty within both societal and institutional contexts. The combination of budget cuts, pressure for acceptance of more students, revision of curricula in response to societal needs, and the need to serve a greater diversity of students places additional pressures on faculty and administrators alike. All segments of the educational community require a commitment to teaching, outreach, and research as well as to the subsequent activities that assure promotion, tenure, and merit pay raises (Konrad, 1991).

In this changing environment, the debate of teaching versus research produces dichotomous thinking and denies the integral nature of the academy. A philosophy that integrates all aspects of the professoriate in scholarly pursuit is important. A reward system that values individual faculty pursuits in advancing the knowledge of their discipline is critical to higher education (Layzell, 1996).

The university’s mission and set of policies and procedures provide direction for the institution and the various units (colleges) within. To a certain extent, these elements comprise the definition of scholarship. However, many universities are rethinking promotion and tenure expectations. Professional associations also are studying the role of scholarship within the framework of their disciplines. These studies of scholarship provide opportunities for exploring perceptions of faculty and administrators in the Human Sciences.

The current study examines administrative and faculty perspectives concerning dimensions of scholarship of the professoriate for the Human Sciences (Boyer, 1990). Specifically, the purpose is two-fold: (a) to define scholarship for the academic position, and (b) to define the measures of scholarship in the Human Sciences.

Scholarship Defined

Scholarship has been studied for decades, and varying philosophies have emerged from the research. Many studies have used the terms “research” and “scholarship” interchangeably to focus on the number of publications for measurement of scholarship. Boyer (1990) and Rice (1991) suggest that major universities have too narrowly defined scholarship as research productivity. They argue that teaching, integration, and application of knowledge should also be included in the definition of scholarship. The scholar should look for connections, build bridges between theory and practice, and communicate knowledge effectively to students and the public. Others have broadened the definition of scholarship to reflect the creation, interpretation, communication, and/or use of knowledge that broadens the discipline (Pellino et al., 1984; Moore & Gardner, 1993; Blackburn, Lawrence, & Associates, 1990). Historically, a scholar has been defined as one who is quick to learn; scholarship has been defined as a prize or grant to students to continue their education (Mish, 1991). Scholarship usually implies distinguishing oneself among one’s peers. The Dawkins Report (Commonwealth of Australia, 1987) defines scholarship as the analysis and interpretation of existing knowledge aimed at improving the depth of human understanding. In academic terms faculty typically define scholarship primarily as research (Blackburn, Bieber, Lawrence, & Trautvetter, 1991).

Administrative Role

The role of the administrator is important in setting the stage for expectations of faculty productivity and scholarship. The administrator creates an environment for the scholarly productivity of faculty in their institution. More importantly, administrators set an example for the faculty. Drucker (1992, p. 116) states, “What executives do, what they believe and value, what they reward and whom, are watched, seen, and minutely interpreted throughout the whole organization. Nothing is noticed more quickly-and considered more significant-than a discrepancy between what the executives preach and what they expect their associates to practice.” Efficient productivity is directed by an effective leader. Drucker indicates that effective leadership involves clearly and visibly defining and establishing the organization’s mission. The leader also sets priorities and maintains standards for conceptualization of the mission. Administrators have the capability to foster, direct, and influence the climate and culture within their institutional setting.

Within the organized system of higher education, the tenets of leadership are structured for general principles of productivity that govern the expectations for performance within each college. Autonomy at the unit (college) level differs by institution. However, administrators at the unit level model the standards for their unit within the institution. Deans/administrators are directly linked to college and department environmental factors that contribute to scholarly productivity, especially those within the sphere of their control and responsibility. A stimulating environment is one in which administrative leaders exhibit high performance, set goals, and recognize faculty for their efforts (Knaub, Lee, & Meredith, 1995). However, even with a conscious commitment on the part of the faculty member to be productive, faculty scholarship will falter if the environment does not support or foster scholarship.

Administrators have a favorable view of faculty motivation and consider the organizational nature of the institution to be more entrepreneurial. Other research found that faculty and administrators also differ in their views of the academic workplace and administrative support (Blackburn et al., 1990). Administrators rank professional activity (professional service to discipline and practices by recognized scholars in the field) higher than faculty.

Expectations of administrators for productivity affect promotion and tenure decisions of faculty. Goldsmith,Thoresen, and Goldsmith (1988) surveyed 75 Home Economics administrators concerning their perceptions of the importance of faculty publishing. Findings indicated administrators view publishing as more important to faculty evaluation than ever before, regardless of the size of an institution.

Faculty Productivity

In the past, scholarly productivity generally has been descriptive in nature and focused on tangible output such as research publications (Jalongo, 1985; Thomas & McKenzie, 1986). Findings from Siegfried and White (1973) indicate research productivity is rewarded more than teaching, and there is little recognition for teaching quality in the promotion and tenure process. However, the hypothesis that good researchers are good teachers was not accepted because measures were not available to assess teaching in the evaluation process employed for the study.

According to Jalongo (1985), while faculty are under great pressure to publish, only the top departments at the most prominent institutions demand extensive publication records. To attain prominence, administrators may set publication expectations as an important marker for faculty success. Goldsmith et al. (1988) found administrators indicated that publishing was increasingly more important in the evaluation of faculty.

The debate regarding research versus teaching continues, suggesting research undermines rather than creates a base for instruction and curriculum. However, other studies indicate published faculty are more effective in the classroom and teaching excellence and scholarly productivity can coexist (Braskamp, Fowler, & Ory, 1982; Teague, 1981). Tanner, Manakyan, and Hotard (1992), in examining research activity and teaching performance in the management field, found teaching and research to be independent of each other. They contend that individual interest motivates a person to excel as a teacher and researcher.


There are challenges to the definition of scholarship and organizational factors that contribute to scholarly productivity. Many of the existing studies focus on faculty in specific disciplines (Biology, Chemistry, Nursing, and Mass Communications). These studies primarily focus on the number of publications as a measure of scholarship and include large samples of faculty. The Human Sciences, as a distinguishable group, are largely absent from these investigations (Bentley, Blackburn, & Bieber, 1990).

In attempting to define scholarship and appropriate measures of scholarship as defined by promotion and tenure criteria, one approach would be to assess the top administrators (of a unit) for a definition and assessment of scholarship, as well as assess the faculty. However, few studies have assessed administrators’ perceptions of scholarship and promotion and tenure criteria practices as measures of scholarship compared to faculty. Thus, the purpose of this article is to (1) define scholarship for the academic environment in the human sciences, and (2) assess administrator and faculty perceptions of ideal measures for promotion and tenure criteria.

Variables Defined

The four dimensions of scholarship are defined using the Boyer (1990) framework:

knowledge for its own sake, to freedom of inquiry and to following, in a disciplined fashion, an investigation wherever it may lead.” (Boyer, 1990).

This advancement of knowledge leads to excitement in the life of the university and the scientist. Those involved in discovery ask the questions, “What is known? What is yet to be found?”

Integration gives meaning to isolated facts, making connections across disciplines and illuminating data in creative ways. Integration involves the fitting of one’s own research and the research of others into larger intellectual patterns, which calls for critical analysis and interpretation. The question, “What do the findings mean?” is posed.

Application seeks to transcend the gap between values of the academy and societal needs. New perspectives arise out of application where theory and practice interact, each renewing the other. Those engaged in application ask, “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems?”

Teaching both educates and entices future scholars. Aristotle states, “Teaching is the highest form of understanding” (Boyer, 1990).Teaching encourages students to be critical thinkers and stimulates learning and discovery by building bridges between the teacher’s understanding and the student’s learning.

Research Design

The Samples

Sample 1: The data were collected from two sampling procedures. Of the 63 programs contacted (members of the Board on Human Sciences (BHS) within the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC) holding the top administrative position in colleges/departments of Human Sciences), 51 administrators (80.95%) participated.

Sample 2: Administrators were asked to define faculty productivity for their unit and nominate three to five faculty. Subsequently, 240 faculty were nominated.

Data Collection

Sample 1: The initial contact included a letter and a 15-20 minute telephone interview (Phase 1) to collect demographic information and solicit a definition of scholarship from the subject. The telephone interview also generated nominations for three to five faculty within their unit.

A two-page instrument consisting of 48 items (Phase 2) was sent to the administrators to assess perceptions of the promotion and tenure criteria that are used as current measures of scholarship. Fortyeight individuals (94.1%) responded to Phase 2.

Sample 2: A letter explaining the project and the instrument for Phase 1 was mailed to the 240 faculty who were nominated by their administrators. The Dillman Total Design Method (Dillman, 1978) was used for data collection. Upon receipt of the Phase 1 instrument, the instrument for Phase 2 was mailed. Phase 1 included 146 returned instruments for a 60.8% response rate. Phase 2 resulted in 126 (out of 146) instruments (83.3% returned).


The initial administrative instrument (telephone interview) was qualitative and designed to assess a definition of scholarship. Phase 2 included a survey based on the Boyer (1990) model of scholarship. Items for the instrument were developed from previous research by Boyer (1990) and Diamond and Adam (1993). Items for each of the four areas of scholarship were rated on a Likert Scale (1 = least important to 5 = most important) for the ideal criteria for promotion and tenure practices.

The faculty study included two phases. The instrument for Phase 1 was designed to solicit an open-ended response to the definition of scholarship for the academic position. The Phase 2 instrument was identical to the administrator instrument, which assessed measures of scholarship. Cronback alpha correlations for each of the scales ranged from .79 to .97. The lowest correlation (.79) is for the research dimension, while the highest correlation (.97) is for the teaching dimension.

Results and Discussion

The ratings for administrators and faculty perceptions (t test) of the four dimensions related to ideal promotion and tenure practices were analyzed. For the discovery dimension, four of the variables are significant: refereed publications, invited papers, proceedings, and theory building. Administrators perceive these to be of higher importance than do faculty for ideal promotion and tenure practices. The administrators’ perception of refereed publications indicates this is still a major component of faculty productivity.

For the integration dimension, three of the variables are significant: proceedings, multidisciplinary work, and presentations. Again, the means for the administrators’ perceptions are higher than those of faculty for these variables. Administrators perceive the need to not only discover new information but also to integrate this research into multidisciplinary work that reaches across current boundaries to extend the knowledge base.

For the application dimension, several of the measures are significant: refereed publications, invited papers, proceedings, departmental committees, applied programs, juried exhibits, and external scholars. All of the administrators’ perceptions are higher than those of the faculty with the exception of refereed publications. Faculty perceive publications to be more important in the application area of scholarship. This perception is related to the traditional view of faculty productivity.

For the teaching dimension, white papers, current and former student evaluations, juried exhibits, teaching grants, and innovative teaching methods are significant. The administrators’ perceptions are all higher than those of faculty. Student evaluations have always been a major portion of measuring the effectiveness of faculty performance. Administrators perceive the need to continue to include these within performance evaluations of faculty and their scholarly activities.

Conclusions and Summary

Administrators placed emphasis on the generation of new knowledge and validation of existing knowledge in defining scholarship. Generation of new knowledge implies dissemination of the resulting knowledge. Administrators emphasized the scholar was an excellent teacher, researcher, and communicator of research to the public.

In exploring administrator and faculty perceptions of scholarship for the four dimensions, it appears ideal promotion and tenure practices are oriented toward research and publications Administrators traditionally have used a number of publications to assess faculty productivity for promotion and tenure. The higher means for administrators indicate publications will continue to be a significant part of the review process. The significance of multidisciplinary work and presentations in the application dimension may suggest administrators view the Human Sciences as an integrative and applied field and recognize the need to contribute to the needs of society. This may suggest that although basic research contributions from the Human Sciences must be recognized in the most prestigious journals, reflection of the integrative nature of the field with interdisciplinary publications should be encouraged.

Recognition of the role of teaching suggests the need for publications that reflect teaching methodology, pedagogy, learning styles, and critical thinking, to name a few. The emphasis on publications may also reflect the peer review validation as well as the need to continue the effort toward achievement and recognition of a unit that is primarily based on the unit’s research reputation. Invited papers, proceedings, and presentations also enhance the individual faculty members, and the represented college/departmental unit acknowledges the expertise of faculty and their depth of contribution to the field.

These elements of scholarship must be recognized and carefully delineated for faculty. Administrators are important for setting the stage for expectations of faculty productivity. According to Knaub et al. (1995), the success of the faculty is dependent on an environment that supports faculty in their quest for excellence and the development of a scholarly program. Administrators must commit to human resource development that is supportive of the various dimensions of scholarship; faculty should be rewarded for creative pursuit of scholarship in discovery, instruction, and outreach.

With the diversity in faculty experiences, assessment of scholarship is a challenge. What are appropriate quantitative and qualitative measures of scholarship? How does an institution develop a consistent reward system that motivates faculty to be creative entrepreneurs in their scholarly endeavors? Can we in the Human Sciences define criteria for productivity that are based in a scholarly framework for all of the four dimensions?

Professional associations must be aligned with the scholarship expectations of the institutions to support and develop faculty (Knaub et al., 1995). Adam and Roberts (1993) discuss the activities of the American Historical Association and the Departments of Management and Business, Art, Chemistry, and Geography in considering the roles and rewards for faculty within their specialization. Perhaps the Higher Education Unit of AAHS (NASULGC), National Council of Family and Consumer Sciences (NCAHE), American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS), and the consortium of comprehensive university units should appoint a task force to study scholarship in the Human Sciences. Bailey, Firebaugh, Haley, and Nickols (1993) discuss the need for a consortium to face the future in Human Sciences programs in higher education. The proposed consortium could address issues of scholarship for developing faculty leaders who model the concept of scholarship for discovery, instruction, and outreach, which could assure the integrity of Human Sciences programs.

Faculty development and assessment programs can address the parameters of clearly articulated organizational goals and outcomes (Weber, Engle, & Knaub, 1995). A method of assessing faculty work could emphasize a “professional portfolio” to enhance teaching and outreach with a firm foundation based on research, which would help to prepare faculty as leaders in higher education for the next century and ensure response to societal issues. This professional portfolio would encompass classroom teaching and the research laboratory as well as outreach activities to government, business, industry, the professions, and the community at large. Real problems are often the most difficult and provide invaluable learning experiences. The portfolio could enable faculty to be more responsive to the public concern that higher education is integral to societal needs and not an isolated institution and support faculty interaction with the challenges of today’s society.

Faculty in the Faculty Scholars Program formulated concepts for the development of scholarship for the professoriate life. Farr, Couchman, and Robinson (1993) (Figure 1) suggested that all four forms of scholarship exist; however, they are in constant change. At one point in the life of the scholar discovery might be emphasized, with concentration on research modeling and theory development. At another stage, the faculty member might be involved in the outreach form of scholarship through application of the theory. This approach allows the application of real community/world-based problems to the theoretical framework and raises new questions for the discovery mode. Assessment of these forms of scholarship would have similar questions validating the generation of knowledge.

Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff (1997) indicate, “It’s one thing to give scholarship a larger meaning, but the real issue revolves around assessment.”The Human Sciences, as a community, could contribute to the reframing of scholarship enriching the academy of scholars. A more inclusive view of the scholar in the assessment process should be the paradigm for change.


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Margaret J. Weber is a professor and associate dean for Academic and Research Services in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at Oklahoma State University. Randall R. Russ is an assistant professor in the Department of Merchandising, Environmental Design, and Consumer Economics in the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech University.

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